The Playgoer: Niederkorn...He's Baaaaaack

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Niederkorn...He's Baaaaaack

I can't believe the New York Times still allows William Niederkorn to write about anything Shakespearean. After finally being exposed as a dedicated "Oxfordian" with an agenda to bring fringe conspiracy theories of Shakespeare's authorship into the "paper of record" it looked like the Times had finally come to its senses and relegated him to other areas. (He's employed full time as an editor, but occasionally contributes.)

Well, thank god the Arts section no longer legitimizes his fantasies. But just in time for the Bard's birthday, someone found room for him in last weekend's Education section. Frankly I don't know what's worse! Trying to lay seeds of doubt in arts lovers or those actually educating our youth.

What news, you wonder, merits yet another platform for Shakespeare-Denial views without any peer-reviewed credence? A poll! Who, you ask, has decided to canvas "265 professors [who] teach Shakespeare in the English departments of public and private four-year colleges and universities, which were selected randomly"? Why, the New York Time Education Life section. I wonder who suggested such a poll.

Now don't be fooled by the headline: "Shakespeare Reaffirmed." Nor by those pesky "results": "82 percent said there is no good reason to question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford-on-Avon was the principal author of the poems and plays in the canon." Because the kicker of the story is...well, its existence. Once again, Mr. Niederkorn has managed to slip into the nation's most looked-to self-appointed "arbiter of culture" (in the words of its managing editor) suggestions that his own totally amateur fringe views have a place at the table.

Take a look at the lede, for instance: "Here's good news for Stratfordians as they celebrate the Bard’s birth, on April 23: Professors believe in him." Gee well...whew! A bit of a grudging admission, no? The very term "Stratfordian" gives him away, too, of course. In Niederkorn's universe, equal time must always be divided evenly between "Oxfordians" and "Stratfordians" (like pro- and anti-abortion or gun control) because "authorship" of the plays is to him an open question.... As real-life Shakespeare scholar Stephen Greenblatt once said: Do we still call those of who believe in a sun-centered planetary system "Copernicans"?

If Niederkorn had been hoping to score a victory with this poll, then the results are clearly embarrassing to him, wouldn't you think? But lest he wants to gloat about the 18% who didn't answer a flat-out no to the question: "Do you think that there is good reason to question whether William Shakespeare of Stratford is the principal author of the plays and poems in the canon?" Well, take a look at the breakdown in the full results: 6% Yes, 11% Possibly, 1% Don't Know.

The stated methods and population of the poll also reveal how ultimately meaningless it is. for instance, 58% percent of the respondents say (in question 21) they "Don't teach at graduate level"--which is where you'd expect to find the most accomplished Shakespeare scholars. Also,

"Of the 1,340 institutions in the College Board data set, a random sample of 637 was drawn. Shakespeare professors were identified at 556, and 265 completed the questionnaire."
So if I read that right, over half of those contacted just blew it off? I suspect those are not the professors who would have helped Niederkorn's case...

Finally, notice the desperate lengths Niederkorn goes to to salvage a good narrative for his side out of this.
The professors were better versed in writings by advocates for the Earl of Oxford, the most prominent alternative candidate, than by Shakespeare defenders. The Oxfordians J. Thomas Looney, Charlton Ogburn and Mark Anderson had been read
by 29 percent, 26 percent and 17 percent respectively; the Stratfordians Scott
McCrea and Irvin Matus had been read by 11 and 10 percent.

Who else but an amateur zealot would even ask such bullshit questions? The poll breakdown shows that Niederkorn only asked the professors if they had read the following authors: Mark Anderson, Delia Bacon, Alden Brooks, G. George Greenwood, Abel Lefranc, J. Thomas Looney, Irvin Matus, Scott McCrea, Charlton Ogburn, Diana Price, John H. Stotsenburg, A.W. Titherley.
I'm a PhD student in theatre history, and quite a Shakespeare buff, and I've never heard of any of these people. Except Looney because a) he has a funny name, and b) he is only known as the eccentric scholar back in the 20s who first advanced the Edward DeVere, Earl of Oxford as a candidate for the authorship, even though the Earl died in 1604. (Naturally it is tempting to link points (a) and (b).)... Not surprisingly, many of these names--except Looney--get recognition responses in the single digits.

Yet, look what Niederkorn proclaims from this in his summary:

The professors were better versed in writings by advocates for the Earl of Oxford, the most prominent alternative candidate, than by Shakespeare defenders. The Oxfordians J. Thomas Looney, Charlton Ogburn and Mark Anderson had been read by 29 percent, 26 percent and 17 percent respectively; the Stratfordians Scott McCrea and Irvin Matus had been read by 11 and 10 percent.

So these guys McCrea and Matus are the representatives of "Stratfordianism"??? No Steven Greenblatt? No James Shapiro? No David Bevington?....No Harold fucking Bloom, even???

Ok, I guess his point is to stick to names of people who only write about "authorship." But notice how he spins the unimpressive results to say, "Ha! Our fringe scholars are read by one-fourth of this sample (of the half who responded) while these guys who actually bother spending time refuting us--as opposed to their more famous and sane "Stratfordian" colleagues--get only one-tenth!" Proving....?

Just look at the poll questions and ask yourselves: if you were a regular journalist and you actually did conduct a poll on this questions...would these be the questions you would ask???

Before I waste any more of my morning on this joke-journalism, I'll simply refer you my previous rants on the matter, on Niederkorn's past offenses.

But let me just repeat that the scandal is not really why this one individual thinks what he does --but why the New York Times continues to legitimize his unsubstantiated insinuations against, effectively, the entire community of professional literary scholars, critics, and historians.

I don't wish personal ill against the man or the losing of his livelihood. Just please, NYT, either reassign the guy or actually edit his stories to conform with some basic standards of journalism.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I already have my PhD. I recommend that readers of your rants who want some perspective on your narrow-minded, ignorant, and abusive posts visit Mark Anderson's blog:

http://shakespearebyanothername.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

You write: "I'm a PhD student in theatre history, and quite a Shakespeare buff, and I've never heard of any of these people."
So instead, consider Derek Jacobi, Jeremy Irons, Leslie Howard, Orson Welles, Michael York, and, if it's not too far afield, Sigmund Freud.

Anonymous said...

Okay - so most of the people who haven't read the same books you haven't read agree with you. I get that much.

I just don't see how that stance occupies the intellectual high-ground.

Anonymous said...

In a move straight out of the totalitarian handbook, The Playgoer tries to shut down debate with appeals to authority.

The evidence is overwhelming: Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays.

-- Julian

Anonymous said...

Marlowe? Please. The cryptographic evidence clearly points to Francis Bacon.

-- Bacon Man

Anonymous said...

The idea that -either- Bacon or Marlowe could have written the plays is crazy. Amongst the best scholars, the consensus is foursquare behind the candidacy of Sir Henry Neville, noted Elizabethan diplomat and man-about-town.

-- Sylvester

Anonymous said...

The nation that controls tungsten will control the world!!!

Hank said...

Playgoer,

Instead of looking at the percentages of people who believe this or that, please pick up these books and have a look. Diana Price's excellent, "Shakespeare's Unorthodox Biography" would be a great start. She doesn't look at candidates as much as look at Shaksper himself & the many problems he has if we HAVE to accept him as the author. Then take a look at some of those other books you clearly know about. Forget the percentages, actually read one of the books. This debate is not going away. Not because anyone is nuts or a conspiracy theorist or anything else you may want to call people who like to use the brains we were blessed with. If we had absolutely no idea who Mark Twain was, biography-wise & someone suspected some fellow named Samuel L. Clemens looked a lot like someone with such a background, who we rip them apart and say "How dare they, those fringe elements out there?!"

Evereader...

ben-Jonson said...

Anonymous said...
In a move straight out of the totalitarian handbook, The Playgoer tries to shut down debate with appeals to authority.

The evidence is overwhelming: Christopher Marlowe wrote Shakespeare's plays.

-- Julian

Monday, April 30, 2007 6:14:00 PM
Anonymous said...
Marlowe? Please. The cryptographic evidence clearly points to Francis Bacon.

-- Bacon Man

Monday, April 30, 2007 6:19:00 PM
Anonymous said...
The idea that -either- Bacon or Marlowe could have written the plays is crazy. Amongst the best scholars, the consensus is foursquare behind the candidacy of Sir Henry Neville, noted Elizabethan diplomat and man-about-town.

-- Sylvester


This is a rather amusing little skit, brought to you, dear reader, by a reigning Shakespearean orthodoxy that particularly delights in manufacturing realities that don't exist. Remember, the point is not who did write the plays, but whether or not Playgoer's attack on William Niederkorn for even raising the question of authorship, is a real contribution to public discourse, or merely an unprofessional exhibition of emotional excess in support of a belief system he understands only very vaguely and in critique of a hypothesis he does not understand at all.

The question, in other words, is not who wrote the works, but whether Playgoer owes Mr. Niederkorn an apology and himself a long trip to the library. It is predictable under such circumstances that Playgoer's anonymous friends would come on and try to muddy the issue with this little skit, which aims to parody the anti-Stratfordians but actually ends up parodying the foolish tactics of the most extreme elements in the traditional camp.

The Playgoer said...

Well I've been enjoying this from the sidelines, but I guess it's time to intervene.

First, Mr "Ben" if anyone convinces me of some factual inaccuracy in what I said about Mr Niederkorn's reporting, I will humbly apologize for that. Otherwise I see no need to apologize for my informed opinion of what the NYTimes lets him publish on this issue.

I suppose I will never be well read enough in the anti-Shakespearean "canon" to satisfy that said. But I am hardly "ignorant" of many of their views. For a start I've read all of Niederkorn's articles! I've also spent many hours dissecting the arguments of the official Oxfordian website. I've leafed through some of theses cites titles in Barnes & Noble and read countless other articles here and there. So while there's more I could read, I definitely know at least SOME of the other side's key arguments, and am not satisfied by them.

But, hey, please don't accuse me so glibly of not knowing my OWN side, Ben. I've spent the better part of my life studying Shakespeare. And though you'll no doubt dismiss what I read and the teachers I've studied with as "Stratforidan Propagandists", please give me SOME credit of not walking into this argument blind.

If you read through the links I provided to earlier posts I've made on this subject, you'll see I'm well versed in at least some of the argument. I may not be able to ace the Oxfordian final yet, but Ive done SOME homework. I really don't want to devote more space on this blog to debating the issue, since that could (and will) go on forever.

If someone perhaps wants to startup a separate blog to host such a debate, though, I would be glad to check it out and even contribute.

Meanwhile, I encourage any anti-Shakespeareans to email me directly (playgoer[at]gmail.com) and challenge me with your best two or three bullet points that should convince me to doubt Shakespeare's authorship. I really want to hear your best arguments, and I promise to consider them with an open mind--even if I may have a perfectly rational response to counter it.

Just a last word on the comment citing all the famous thespians who were/are authorship junkies. I love each and every one of them as actors--Shakespearean actors to boot. Obviously they all have a unique poetic sensibility and personal connection to the text that communicates to an audience in performance or on film... But that to me has nothing to do with standards of historical research. Whether Derek Jacobi has a hunch or not that the author simply must have been a tormented aristocrat, is not really "admissable evidence" in my book.

Actors are not dumb, I don't buy into that stereotype at all. But I don't consider historical study an amateur pursuit. Most actors are too busy doing what they do best.